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Trade In Focus As Iranian President Visits Pakistan


Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L) inspecting guards of honor during his meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (R), in Islamabad on March 25.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani is heading to Islamabad on March 25 as neighboring Iran and Pakistan seek to boost trade ties.

Rohani will be accompanied by eight cabinet ministers, including those responsible for oil, electricity, and industries, during his two-day trip to Pakistan -- the first by an Iranian head of state in 14 years.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry said a long-delayed gas pipeline to supply Iranian natural gas to energy-starved Pakistan would figure high during the talks.

Rohani’s visit is taking place after international economic sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program were lifted in January.

The restrictions had made it difficult to find financial backing for the 800 kilometers of pipeline needed on the Pakistani side.

Also, Washington has for years opposed the multibillion-dollar project amid concerns over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

A spokesman for Iran’s Embassy in Islamabad, Seyed Abbas Badrifar, said the two sides envisage signing a five-year strategic commercial plan and increasing the trade of meat and animals between the ports of Karachi and Chabahar.

Pakistan is also said to be looking to boost electricity imports from Iran to as much as 3,000 megawatts from some 75 megawatts currently.

Iranian officials were quoted as saying tensions between Iran and regional rival Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan's possible role as mediator, would also be discussed during Rohani’s visit.

The Iranian president will hold talks with both President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on March 26. He is also scheduled to address a gathering of Pakistani scholars and intellectuals.

On the eve of his visit, Rohani said that "constructive relations with neighbors and the Islamic world are at the priority list of our foreign policy."

"I believe that at this crucial moment of the history of relations between the two countries, it is essential that Pakistan and Iran...lay the cornerstone of a new bilateral engagement based on the mutual interests of the two countries," he also said in his statement.

Pakistan has traditionally had close relations with the United States and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, Shi’ite Iran's top rival.

Meanwhile, relations between Pakistan and Iran have often been fraught.

In the 1980s, Islamabad and Tehran backed different groups fighting against Soviet forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistan, which has more Shi’ite Muslims than any country apart from Iran, later backed the hard-line Sunni Taliban movement in Afghanistan.

Tehran also accused Al-Qaeda-linked militants in Pakistan of orchestrating deadly attacks on Iranian soil.

But Islamabad’s refusal last year to join a Saudi-led offensive against Shi’ite Huthi rebels in Yemen has helped rebalance the relationship with Iran.

In January, Pakistani officials used shuttle diplomacy in an attempt to ease heightened tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan agreed this year to join an international military coalition led by Saudi Arabia to fight terrorism in the Muslim world, but it did not commit troops for the alliance. Iran and its regional ally Syria are not part of the initiative.

With reporting by AP, dpa, Dawn, and Bloomberg

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